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Traditional surround sound systems usually require precise speaker placement, which can clutter your living space. But what if you can’t place speakers in those ideal spots because you have doorways or open spaces?

Dolby Atmos FlexConnect solves this dilemma — it offers flexible placement options without the hassle of wires. This innovative technology, announced in August and showcased in January, promises to enhance your home audio experience.

What Is Dolby Atmos FlexConnect and How Is It Different From Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos FlexConnect is a wireless audio technology that lets users set up a Dolby Atmos sound system without a traditional soundbar or AV receiver as the central unit. It uses a compatible TV’s built-in hardware and software to deliver Dolby Atmos audio. This way, it doesn’t require an HDMI cable to connect to an external device.

The key difference between the “normal” Dolby Atmos and FlexConnect is in their setup and placement requirements for speakers.

Dolby Atmos needs users to mount specific speakers in precise locations for optimal sound effects. This can be complex and time-consuming. In contrast, FlexConnect is more forgiving about speaker placement. It allows users to place external speakers anywhere in the room with your TV, even if they’re not perfectly symmetrical. This means you can integrate the speakers into your living space as is, without the need to rearrange furniture or mount speakers on walls.

How Dolby Atmos FlexConnect Transforms Audio

The process begins with a calibration phase where two FlexConnect speakers emit test tones. The microphones in the TV pick up these tones to determine speaker locations and the room’s acoustics.

One thing to note, though: Dolby Atmos FlexConnect can support numerous speakers simultaneously, but manufacturers may limit the number based on TV hardware capabilities. For example, TCL plans to support up to two speakers in its 2024 TV lineup, with some midrange models possibly limited to one external speaker.

Unlike other platforms like Sonos or DTS Play-Fi, FlexConnect is not tied to specific hardware or connection methods. TV manufacturers can choose any wireless technology, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, to connect speakers, as long as they adhere to Dolby’s standards.

Once the TV identifies speaker locations, it adjusts the audio output accordingly. Whether speakers are placed behind furniture or on a bookshelf, FlexConnect optimizes sound for the room layout. It even compensates for differences in speaker performance, just like when the TV speakers don't have enough bass.. For instance, it can send frequencies to other speakers or a subwoofer.

The Benefits of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect

Historically, traditional soundbar setups had the TV’s built-in speakers turned off. Now, FlexConnect integrates both external and internal speakers to cooperate. Adding a pair of dedicated speakers significantly improves audio quality, which is especially true in terms of bass and spaciousness.

In the announcement, Dolby laid out the following benefits of FlexConnect:

  • Enhanced audio performance — Users elevate their TV’s audio performance by adding wireless accessory speakers to create a more immersive sound experience.
  • Flexible speaker placement — There is freedom to place speakers anywhere in the room, which takes into account room dimensions, furniture arrangements, and power outlet locations. This is done without compromising audio quality.
  • Easy setup — Setting up is easy and doesn't need extra gear or wires. The acoustic mapping tech finds each wireless speaker in the room and adjusts the system for the best sound.
  • Intelligent audio distribution — Audio is distributed from the TV’s speakers to every wireless speaker with smart technology. The system adjusts the sound signal in real time based on the capabilities and positions of all speakers.

Reviews and test drives of FlexConnect have confirmed that these benefits are indeed true. Users do experience noticeable improvements in audio quality, spatial sound, and bass performance when adding dedicated wireless speakers to their Dolby Atmos-enabled TVs.

One reviewer said that to demonstrate the system’s capabilities, they listened to one of Dolby’s standard Atmos demo reels with various sounds like forest ambiance, rain, and thunder. Compared to just using the TV’s speakers, the difference was striking.

Where Can You Experience It?

You will be able to experience Dolby Atmos FlexConnect on TCL and Hisense TVs, the first to feature this technology. Other TV brands are expected to follow suit, especially since chip manufacturer MediaTek is integrating FlexConnect into its smart TV chips. The availability of compatible speakers has not been announced yet, but updates are likely to come later.

These TCL TVs are set to launch soon, confirming that FlexConnect will be available in 2024. However, the exact release dates for experiencing it firsthand are still unknown.

More TV brands are likely to adopt FlexConnect in the future, following the lead of Dolby Atmos soundbars. These soundbars from brands like Samsung, Sony, LG, Bose Sennheiser, and Sonos already offer similar calibration systems that use microphones. However, they have stricter limitations on the number of speakers they support.

Some can integrate with a TV’s built-in speakers, but this feature is limited to specific TV models from the same brand. Certain Samsung soundbars can also wirelessly connect to Samsung TVs.

The Public Debut of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect

The latest update on FlexConnect came from the Consumer Electronics Show 2024. At CES, Dolby presented the new system, along with other technology. It also showcased new audio deployment options, including different setup methods and advancements in working with cutting-edge wireless protocols.

In late 2023, MediaTek, a leading semiconductor company, announced support for FlexConnect in its Pentonic TV platform. This integration is available in MediaTek’s Pentonic and Filogic chipsets. This provides manufacturers with an easy solution for implementing FlexConnect using a top-quality, dependable wireless platform. So, when FlexConnect becomes available, there will be already a system ready to deliver and set it up quickly.

Unfortunately, Dolby hasn’t confirmed specific timelines yet. But they’ve hinted that more details will be available later in 2024.